Playing Tourist – Or Photos of Substance?


That is a question I ask myself often. Many times it seems that way as the excitement builds getting to see animals and birds not often seen. In fact, I recently have seen quite a few birds new to me on birding trips, and yes, I was giddy.

Most of the birds were seen through my binoculars or borrowed scopes being so far away, like the Bald Eagles at the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.

This trip made me realize I cannot post many of the birds because the distance was too far for my lens, and all the photos do was prove I saw the eagles. I suppose if I waited patiently, birds might fly within range, but where I have been lately, the bird preserves are just too expansive.


The reality of wildlife photography is that wildlife does not sit around waiting for the photographer, nor does it necessarily come into range. That means the one taking pictures has a lot of sitting around to do.

I mentioned before I am a very impatient photographer and therefore don’t often get the shots of those that wait. Some of the wildlife photographers I follow wait for hours and hours for birds to fly in closer. Some photographers at the Refuge sat by the road waiting in lawn chairs. The preserve is mostly a drive thru experience, yet there were places to pull over to capture photos, just not always where you needed them though.

I think many would say I run across quite a lot of birds and animals in my travels, but the truth is, you only get what nature gives you. Sometimes things come together and most times they don’t.


The good wildlife photographers make it look so easy too, like they walk outside and there is a bird preening for the camera. But as anyone who does try to shoot wildlife knows, it is a tough subject to photograph and on top of that do it well.



The animals and birds are not always a willing subject, so that may take learning their behavior and how much the wildlife will tolerate.


So much depends on weather which is not always accommodating either.


Tundra Swan

Most times, especially if photographing in nature, you just have to take what you can get. And in that case the photos are all “tourist” and quite the snore.


So my question is… are YOU playing tourist with the images you post or do you make your photos happen with great planning? It goes for any type of photography too, even garden photos.


Next post takes me to Reinstein Woods in another photography post questioning, How Much Should We Show?, an important question too.

Next trip birdingΒ  with the birders takes me to Braddock Bay. It is another birding hotspot and I hope to see more raptors there. Chances are we will see some of the birds in this post.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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49 Responses to Playing Tourist – Or Photos of Substance?

  1. Debra says:

    Serendipity. I was just telling my husband how much I admire your photos and that I imagined you must be terribly patient to get all the amazing photos you publish. I went to a pond the other day to take shots of some ducks and it was impossible.They WOULDN’T be still for even the time it takes to depress the button. (shakes fist at birds) hahahaha I suspect you are more patient than you realize.

    • Maybe, but there is another side to impatience. I have to be patient while with the bird watchers. They require being still and quiet. Sometimes in my impatient moments, I sneak off or lag behind exploring on my own. There I run into certain animals that they would miss or care less for. So being on the move myself has worked out for me on occasion.

  2. I am definitely a tourist. I go to people’s gardens and take photos at the worst times of the day. I visit people’s gardens during garden walks, which generally take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. I often have to cover two different garden walks in two different counties on the same day, so I can’t avoid the harsh midday sun. Sometimes it’s raining. Sometimes it’s overcast. I chronicle what is in that garden on that day. I’m more of a reporter than an art photographer.

  3. Annette says:

    It depends very much on the subjects I’m shooting and a lot of beautiful pics happen because you’re in the right spot at the right time. Wildlife photography is the most challenging and it doesn’t look easy at all to me because I know what’s involved: lots of patience and more patience. Thanks for sharing your birds, they’re fab!

    • For me it depends on the place rather than the subject usually. It also depends on time of day and lighting conditions because one place will be different throughout the day. You are right, working with animals and insects is far different than flowers and gardens that don’t move too much. Patience is needed less in that kind of photography – or at least, it is a differing patience.

  4. Nick Hunter says:

    Good post and thoughts on a topic all should ponder. Much social research has been done on the psychological aspects of hunting for animal harvest, and there are some strong correlations with hunting for pictures. Both follow a pattern of changing/evolving values and goals, tending to progress from quantity to quality in relation to the overall experience as well as the targets. BTW – very nice heron shots! I’ve never been to Montezuma but am considering a spring trip.

    • You know, that would be good reading for me. In the next two posts of this series, I raise more questions based on photography club meetings I have been attending. I don’t really remember them talking of quantity vs. quality, but they should. Some go out and you never hear the shutter stop clicking. They don’t take the time to stand back, observe and enjoy the experience. At least I do that most times. Passion comes out in an image when a photographer takes the time. I know the problem with wildlife photography is one needs to be ready because the time spent with an animal may be mere seconds. I guess that is the value of sitting and waiting for hours, one gets to take in the experience of place and knows how to deal with it when an animal appears. Hmmm, maybe I need to get a bit more patience.

  5. “You only get what nature gives you.” That’s a simple, yet profound statement, Donna. My experience with photography is definitely a little of both–tourist and substance. But there’s a third element that you allude to in that quote, “You only get what nature gives you.” That third element is grace, which is a gift from a higher power in my opinion. Many times the grace is only known to the observer and isn’t captured with a camera. But with serendipity, and a little talent (or a lot in your case), we’re able to share it. πŸ™‚

    • Should be on a T-shirt with a thumbs up or thumbs down depending if the photographer gets skunked. πŸ˜€ I know when I am new to a place, I almost always start as a tourist. It is like you don’t want to miss anything. When I return, I know where I am going and where to see it, so it is a much different approach. Very true on the observer. I talk about that in the third of this series of “photography” posts. I have been attending some informational photography meetings (and now I decided to discuss it) and I think this is something not done enough where the passion is so intense that it seeps out of each image. Working with pros I have been more attentive to it, yet I don’t really see it in much of their work. Thank you for the nice confidence-building comment, Beth.

    • alesiablogs says:

      I totally get that. I have talked about this with my son during his photo class he finished ! He made an A in it so I guess he learned something! There is so much to learn though.

      • It is way more than the technical and that is a lot of what school teaches. I remember my photography classes in college and there was an emphasis on composition, but that is a technical, by the rules way of learning. Good composition makes for good images, but always following the rules to the letter makes for boring photography. Rule of thirds for instance. Not every image needs an off center layout. My artist self is more inclined to break rules, I break them all the time in exposure. I just happen to like high key images. Too many rules for my architecture self, so I need an outlet. In my next two post on photography, I question some of what others say is “the right way” to photograph. Sure rules are important, but stepping outside the box makes it more than dumb luck. I don’t put my “art” images on the blog because they are the ones that sell, but even though I don’t have these “out of the box” images posted does not mean I don’t do them. Glad to hear he did well in his photography class. Maybe it will be his vocation.

  6. My Heartsong says:

    Good points made here, Donna. Patience and learning behaviour is essential and I have learned some wisdom from the other photographers who have the “long lens”. We tend to share with one another where sightings have been but would be selective with whom we share information.I need to get out today in the middle of the day when I have the time , hopefully before the snow starts to fall. Yes, I did say that, it was announced in the weather forecast. Thanks for the reminder to get my lawn chair out of storage and put in my trunk. I have a tarp to put on the ground when I need to get low. Still learning.

    • Thank you, Jane. I have posts up next from a photography club I have been attending. It is far better than the club I am a member because they do juried classes where a pro comes in and critiques the work. I will be giving my impressions of this as an observer. It is interesting, but not to the level I was expecting. The photographers are at a very mixed level of experience, and I am unfamiliar with the work of the pros critiquing their work, so I add my thoughts in post.

  7. I studied ducks behaviour to see if I can just get more than just ducks swimming. So it is important to know about the wildlife you intend to take photos of and study them to get to know them and then it is a matter making the most of each opportunity, Love the photos. πŸ˜€

  8. swo8 says:

    We have a family of ducks that live under a bridge and swim in the stream that flows by.It is near the junior public school and children always stop to look in wonderment at the ducks and their ducklings as they begin to grow.

  9. acuriousgal says:

    I love your photos, Donna. My captures are usually the birds at my feeder or when I am out for a walk. I do not sit and wait very well. My husband just laughs at me when I say, “where are all these great creatures?” I might need to slow down a little and look more closely….I guess they’re not all gonna come to me and strike a pose!πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ™‹

  10. Your photos are wonderful, Donna, and I have learned a lot from you. Even though I’m just a tourist photographer. I did check out the link that you posted for Phil Lanoue Photography. Yes, he is a top notch photographer. I follow a few local photographers of wildlife as well and enjoy their pictures, too. I think you can always learn something from other photographers.

    • Like I said in my post, most of us are. I am always the tourist when I am new to a location and I cannot help myself clicking when I should be just enjoying and learning a place. Glad you liked Phil’s site. I have been giving his link to many folks, especially other photographers. I have been attending a photography club’s speaker series and so far not one of them are in league with Phil’s amazing captures.

  11. Phil Lanoue says:

    “you only get what nature gives you” So true!
    Well you surely did get outstanding wildlife shots! Well done!
    And of course I always enjoy seeing my GBH friends. πŸ™‚

    • Well you are getting my readers I am glad to say. I have given your link to quite a few and they just love your work as I do. Hope you are feeling better. No fun being sick or laid up when you shoot outdoors like you do. What do the gators do without you?

  12. I really don’t know how much of real nature’s creations you can plan – unless you are in a very controlled environment. So this here photographer -you- has an excellent instinct and eye to capture what nature provides at the time. πŸ™‚

    • Well, there is planning involved. With hawks, I have to wait until the air warms so they catch the wind currents. Songbirds are up really early and that is the best time to see them. They feed on the East side of trees because the sun is warming and that is when and where the insects come out to become their prey. I can go on and on for things animals will do behavior wise, but also you can plan based on weather too. To catch a bird before it takes flight, almost a guarantee of photographing them in flight is watch them on the branch. They release a bird dropping right before taking off.

  13. alesiablogs says:

    I just posted photos as you know of birds of prey from Callaway Gardens. I feel like I cheated nature in some way by having the birds “come” to me! You can see this at

    • Not cheating when the viewer knows they are tethered birds. You must have had fun there. That is a place I would love to visit. I let your link in this comment, but I don’t usually allow this when they “advertise” their blog without reference to the post on which they are commenting. I had one reader that did this every comment, so I started deleting their comments. Now they don’t come here at all.

      • alesiablogs says:

        Thx for letting that pass through. I don’t usually put a link to my blog so I appreciate it. The birds were awesome. I think you would absolutely love this park. We did not even scratch the surface and we spent all day there! Today I spent all day looking at colleges for my son! He will be on a full ride scholarship it looks like A dream come true. Finally good things coming our way!

  14. Interesting post and great photos as usual. Blessings, Natalie πŸ™‚

  15. gardengirl92 says:

    Love the great blue heron pics!

  16. kaleamo says:

    May I ask your permission… copy the heron. I am doing a tile wall hanging of Herons… in that same stance…. A real visual is helpful in creating the final details.

  17. I guess we are playing tourist and not ashamed of it. We both have limited time and, as you say, we take what we can get. Nobody is paying us for our content so we don’t feel we have to meet a professional standard.

    • Professional standards are certainly not for everyone. I certainly did not intend to shame anyone in anyway. Standards I have for myself are much higher since I deal with many professional photographers and was a member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. In the next few posts I talk about my association with these local photographers and show some nice images where I take it up a notch.

      It is much like the birders. They are the cream of the crop in our area and I am happy to be a part of their associations and activities as well. Learning from others all the time. We don’t know what we don’t know until we meet others that do. Some of us find it helpful to expand abilities and knowledge in this way. My post really discusses my limitations in the world of photography (other posts in birding) in that unlike them, I need to have the patience required for this craft. It has taken me a long time to see the value in that to get good images. I myself work a demanding job and have limited time to devote to extra activities, but it really is worth it in the long run. Maybe one day someone will knock on your door for your images. You never know. Just posting on the blog has gotten me a number of paid requests.

  18. You have some wonderful shots here. The Muskrat was fun to see. Lots of beautiful birds. I’m not sure I would be real patient either but sometimes it pays off.

  19. Bonnie says:

    Love your photos of the herons especially in flight. I am visiting in Sidney BC and we saw 5 feeding at low tide on Monday and got some good shots and reflections!

  20. lucindalines says:

    Take what you can get, I would take what you are getting anytime.

  21. I am a mix of both. Many times I have it set up so I can capture some great shots but many are what nature provides and if I see it and have time to capture the image. In the garden I walk the whole area in an hour looking for interesting shots and what is growing. But I don’t do anything extraordinary to manipulate the pictures.

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